WORTHINGTON — When community stakeholders were brought together Wednesday afternoon for a visioning session about potential amenities on the former Prairie View Golf Links property, the ideas ranged from creating a trail head and a primitive Scout campground on the 133-acre parcel to developing a hydroponic community garden, offering an educational exhibit on the prairie ecosystem and improving upon the existing cross-country trail to one day host section meets on the site.
Jason Brisson, Worthington's assistant city administrator and director of economic development, called the meeting as the city continues to expand on its application to have the property designated as a regional park. Invited to the table were representatives from Nobles County, Minnesota West Community & Technical College, the Scouts, District 518, the Statewide Health Improvement Program, Southwest Regional Development Commission and the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce.
Prairie View was decommissioned as a golf course in 2015, and in 2018, the city began the process of getting the site designated as a regional park. During the last application process, Brisson said the city’s application received a medium ranking. The goal is to gather additional community input and include more specific ideas about park amenities before resubmitting the application within the next month in hopes of receiving a high ranking.
With a high ranking, the city can then take the next step — hiring a consultant to assist with engineering, getting cost estimates and engaging the public on the process to create a park with amenities that attract a regional audience. It also would mean the city could apply for funding from the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to get the park developed.
Thus far, noted Brisson, the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission has classified 47 parks and trails as regional parks.
“The sooner we get in on this program, the easier it will be to get funding dollars,” Brisson said.
When the city’s most recent application was returned with the medium ranking, Brisson said the commission requested more information, including proposed features of the park and a tentative layout.
“They wanted to see a detailed plan for educational components of the park and a detailed marketing plan for the park,” he added.
Worthington Public Works Director Todd Wietzema said with the existing water quality component already on the landscape, he sees the property’s potential to promote the prairie.
“We think there could be numerous educational opportunities there,” Wietzema said. “It’s used by cross country and the Scouts, and we think we can enhance that. We want to make it better.”
“This is the time to tell us what to build so we can get it funded,” Brisson added.
He then directed attendees to divide into three groups and come up with lists of amenities they might want to see in a regional park.
Out of those discussions, the features that seemed to rise to the top were trails for walking, biking and running that would connect with existing trails in the city of Worthington. Park shelters with picnic tables and restrooms were also given high priority.
While the water storage ponds on the property won’t be suitable for swimming, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl said the district will want to stock game fish on the site to control the carp population. That would mean an added opportunity for fishing, as well as other water recreation, including kayaking and canoeing.
A public fishing pier was also mentioned as a possible idea, as well as a warming house and concessions area with ice skating, pond hockey, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Minnesota West instructor Rolf Mahlberg envisioned college students using the site for environmental science classes, while Jay Milbrandt said the unique prairie wetlands and ecosystem could be a way to entice visitors to exit the nearby Interstate 90.
Other ideas for the site included an 18-hole Frisbee golf course, native prairie flower and grass educational plots, bird watching, an interactive playground, visitors center, dog park and an amphitheater.